Australia’s new senators are about to take their seats, but not before they go through ‘Senator Kindy’.
That’s the name being given to a two-day training course that is set to prepare our 12 new senators for life in parliament. It’s taking place later this week. Today marks the first day that the new Senators are able to move into Parliament House.
So, what’s on the agenda for Senator Kindy? Well, thanks to the Liberal Democrats' David Leyonhjelm (who coincidentally used to write for us), we’ve acquired a copy of the agenda for the two-day orientation program. We’ve included it below with some explainers to help with the political jargon.
The practice of ‘swearing in’
Newly elected senators representing the states and territories will practise being sworn in on this in preparation for the opening of Parliament. Recent practice has been for the Governor-General to personally to administer the oath or affirmation to senators.
Not all senators are required to be in the Chamber when the Senate is sitting. A quorum requires 19 senators to be in the chamber. When senators are required in the chamber to form a quorum, they are summoned by the ringing of bells. To give you an idea of how a quorum works, here's seven quick rules from the Australian Parliament House website.
Whips, clerks and attendants
A whip is responsible for arranging members of their party to take part in debates and for ensuring their attendance in the chamber when a vote is to be taken. The clerks record the proceedings of the Senate and advise the senators on procedure.
Stage of bill consideration
To be passed into law, a bill has to pass the Lower House and go through three readings in the Senate. Senators can make amendments to the bill, and if the constitution prevents such an amendment then the Senate can ask for the Lower House to amend the bill. Ultimately, both houses have to agree on a given bill. If the two houses can’t reach an agreement, the bill can be either ‘laid aside’ (not pursued) or can lead to a double dissolution -- a new election for both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Senators spend significantly more time in committees than they do in the chamber.
The primary purpose of committees is to investigate matters and issues before parliament. There are several types of committees, which you can read more about here. It's important to note the power of these committees. Much like any court, they have the ability to take evidence under oath. They can also compel testimony from individuals or companies, as we saw during the IT price inquiry.
Parliamentary privilege and senator's interests
Parliamentary privilege exempts politicians, witnesses before an inquiry and documents from any legal consequences as a result of their statements while in parliament. It’s put in place to protect freedom of speech and not stifle debate in parliament, but it has the dual effect of triggering outrageous comments from politicians.
As part of their job, senators also have to fill in and maintain a form on all the donations, financial interests and partnerships. You can find a list of these forms here.